Different Kind of Teacher: Reflections on the Bitter Lessons of American Schoolingby John Taylor Gatto
John Taylor Gatto analyzes the roots of the modern American education system, detailing how it was designed to foster economic interests and facilitate management of the labor force. He then outlines ways to revitalize the system, advocating greater emphasis on critical analysis, creativity, practicality, and real-world exposure in the curriculum. He also calls on educators and administrators to acknowledge young people's need for a spiritual and ethical framework upon which to build a good life.
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John Taylor Gatto offers a scathing indictment of public schools in “A Different Kind of Teacher: Solving the Crisis of American Schooling.” The book itself is a collection of 16 essays and speeches published by Gatto from 1990-1999. After being named New York City Teacher of the Year three times, he very publicly resigned and denounced the system and compulsory education. How did he survive 30 years in a system he loathed? On p. 65 he confesses: “On a daily basis I consciously practiced sabotage, breaking laws regularly, forcing the fixed times and spaces of schooling to become elastic, falsifying school records so the rigid curricula of those places could be what individual children needed. I threw sand in the gears by encouraging new teachers to think dialectically so that they wouldn’t fit into the pyramid of administration. I exploited the weakness of the school’s punitive mechanism, which depends on fear to be effective, by challenging it in visible ways, showing I did not fear it, setting administrators against each other to prevent the juggernaut from crushing me. When that didn’t work I recruited forces to challenge the school—businessmen, politicians, parents and journalists—so I would be given a wide berth. Once, under heavy assault, I asked my wife to run for school board. She got elected, fired the superintendent, and then punished his cronies in a host of imaginative ways.” Gatto distinguishes “schooling” from true education and explains how confining children in an artificial environment throughout their childhood and controlling their thoughts through state-approved standardized textbooks and tests destroys their curiosity and creativity, completely undermining the American spirit of our founders and producing docile minions (or homicidal/suicidal young adults) rather than capable citizens. As a product of Indiana’s public school system who taught high school in Indiana for four years before going to law school, I found myself completely agreeing with Gatto on so many of his key points. Then suddenly and without warning, I would completely disagree with many of his arguments. Perhaps Gatto explains it best in a letter to his daughter on p. 213 when he describes a conversation with an old friend and says, “[H]e was rendering critical analyses and judgments at high speed, marked with intelligence, but like all judgmental discourse, clotted with unexamined values and assumptions.” Karl Marx is often quoted as saying that religion is the opium of the people. Gatto sees Christianity, specifically American Protestantism, as a guiding principle our nation should return to (glossing over issues such as slavery, misogyny, and child abuse) and essentially calling American schooling the opium of the people. He does not fully consider the role of movies and television in undermining students’ critical thinking skills and ability to visualize what they’re reading and could not even begin to predict the role of the internet and social media in the new millennium. By the end, though, when he’s describing “The Art of Conversation” and “The Educated Person,” I once again found myself agreeing whole-heartedly. “An educated person can discover the truth for himself” and “has the capacity to create new things, new experiences, new ideas.” (p. 226). The book is certainly thought-provoking and correct in many of its criticisms of our current public school model. For more encouraging suggestions on how to deal with the system, however, I recommend the writings and TED talks of Sir Ken Robinson.
Gatto, John Taylor, A Different Kind of Teacher: Solving the Crisis of American Schooling, Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Hills Books, 2001. John Taylor Gatto's book entitled A Different King of Teacher: Solving the Crisis of American Schooling is a compilation of sixteen articles Gatto wrote about the education system in America. Gatto was a New York State Teacher of the Year, as well as the New York City Teacher of the Year three times. He eventually quit the teaching profession because he felt he was helping a failing system. He was receiving commendations for his work in the teaching profession while students he taught were graduating without the basic skills needed to make it in life. The first section contains three articles which were written while he was still a teacher. He gives light to the problems he sees in his school (a middle school) and how the students are not learning in a system that contains them. He argues that students who learn in an environment where each year they are with the same students in the same environment are missing out on what the real world could offer them. His argument is that students should spend as much time in the real world (independent study, community service, field studies) as they do in the classroom. Section two contains seven small articles written in the years after Gatto left the teaching proffession to devote his time to fixing the schools system. His articles are a critique of the school system, and sometimes they make you feel bad because you do many of the things he says should not happen. He argues that students do not learn from within the four walls of a school, and yet many schools do not provide avenues for students to learn outside of school. Section three deals with the results of Gatto's studies and research into whats wrong with the current school system, curriculum, and goals of education and what should be done to fix it. Gatto argues that after graduation, many young adults lack the skills to enter a trade. They can't fix a flat tire or even make correct change. Students entering college have to take remedial classes, costing time and money, and not giving them any credit. It is hard to swallow some of the things he attacks or argues, though many seem true. The task seems large. And too many people have an input in the education system. This book is a good way to spark a few ideas for the classroom, and outside of the four walls. I would recommend this book to anyone seeking the teaching profession or involved in the teaching profession.
Amid the clutter of noise that surrounds American educational issues these days, John Taylor Gatto¿s voice comes through with clarity and depth in this set of collected essays. Gatto is that rarest of birds - an original thinker with a knack for framing an argument in a way that is powerfully engaging. His words really do make you think about why schools are the way they are.
While the title of this book may suggest that in its pages will be found a description of some sort of set of teaching ideals, in fact this is a much bigger - and far more radical - piece of work. The whole idea of compulsory education, Gatto argues, is terribly flawed right down to its roots. Schooling - not education, but schooling - has become an ¿insane¿ experiment in social engineering that we have inherited by way of John Dewey, Andrew Carnegie, and the Prussians. It seems a little far-fetched at first blush, but Gatto¿s almost thirty years of teaching in New York City Public Schools, as well as his fresh and rounded view of history bring an authenticity to his analysis that is hard to dismiss.
Occasionally Gatto does stretch things a bit in order to make a point. For example, when he argues that scientists are not ¿made¿ in schools, and that most science teaching in schools adds essentially not a heck of a lot to kids¿ abilities to actually do experiments - certainly an important and reasonable enough claim - he cites Robert Scott Root-Bernstein¿s book Discovering to back his assertion that ¿not one major scientific discovery of this century, including exotica like superconductivity, came from an academic laboratory, or a corporate or government laboratory, or a school laboratory.¿ Well, that¿s a lot of hooey. Penicillin, insulin, and the atomic bomb all came out of labs like that. Nevertheless, he is on target about scientists not having learned their crafts during their schooling, and about the irrelevance of too much science teaching.
Gatto¿s bleak portrayal of the day-to-day goings-on inside of public school buildings rings with truth, but it is his thinking on why the situation has evolved to crisis proportions that gives this book a strong and resonant voice.